May 30, 2017

Using Baltimore’s dirt bike culture to get kids interested in engineering

Engineer Brittany Young founded B-360 to teach kids STEM through an activity they love

Daron is in the 5th grade and has been riding a dirt bike since he was 6 years old. Because of the skills he's learning at B-360, which incorporates dirt bike safety and mechanics into its curriculum, he wants to be an engineer. Photo courtesy of B-360

In Baltimore and cities like it, we see a growing tech industry, often within walking distance from some of the most crime-ridden and impoverished neighborhoods that need employment, education, and access to fundamental resources in order to succeed. There is an immediate need for more black engineers and a need to expose younger students to STEM in hopes of inspiring future engineers, scientists, and professionals. In our city, there are at least 122,000 “mid-skill” STEM careers that could lift people to middle-class without having a 4-year degree.

Because of the noticeable lack of diversity in the STEM field, I myself struggled with perception issues. From the time my first supervisor confused me for his secretary, I was determined to get as many people who look like me into this field by creating curriculum and programming to engage black students. It’s harder to imagine yourself in a career field if you’ve never seen anyone that looks like you in that field, or if the programs designed to make you want to go into STEM aren’t inclusive. It was important for me to reach back to Baltimore to show young people that STEM can be fun and a viable career option, and to also show adults how their current skills and passions transfer into STEM skills.

In Baltimore, it’s also a way to show dirt bike riders in a new light—as curious, brilliant, future and current engineers, who can be as young as a 4-year-old girl or as old as a 60-year-old man.

From the time my first supervisor confused me for his secretary, I was determined to get as many people who look like me into this field by creating curriculum and programming to engage black students.

Brittany Young is a Baltimore Corps Elevation Awardee and is the founder of B-360, an organization that inspires youth to fall in love with STEM through the dirt bike culture in their Baltimore neighborhood. Photo courtesy of B-360

B-360, which stands for “Be the Revolution,” utilizes Baltimore’s dirt bike culture to end the cycle of poverty, disrupt the prison pipeline, and build bridges in communities. Through a rigorous STEM education program and community forums, we equip disconnected youth and adults with the skills to secure educational and career opportunities in STEM fields, while changing perceptions of both dirt bike riders and engineers.

When creating B-360, I wanted to meet people at their point of interest, building on their passion and creating opportunity. Studies have proven that people who have strong hobbies have greater outcomes for success and these same hobbies are a release to urban PTSD.

The intersection of dirt bikes and STEM was fueled by my upbringing in West Baltimore, where people from around the city and sometimes the country gathered every Sunday at Druid Hill to watch bikes come down the street or around the park. Dirt bikes are a part of who we are or who we wanted to be. Dirt bikes were around for generations before me, and are a part of our culture and the essence of being black in the city. In recent years, however, tension between riders and law enforcement officials has been unfolding, bringing a struggle within the community to “problem solve” this issue. The creation of a police task force hit home for me. I had seen first-hand what can happen as a result of solutions based on criminalization when my younger brother was incarcerated at 16. There had to be a better way that would help all sides of the argument.

Recognizing that a lot of riders where mechanics, customizing their bikes and teaching others how to ride and repair provided a perfect model for B-360. Dirt bike riders are passionate about preserving the positive attributes of bike life, which provide natural ways to show students directly that the people they looked up to were, in fact, engineers. This real-world engineering is the basis of the program. Students learn the theory behind the engineering and design process through hands-on workshops. They also learn the mechanics, riding techniques, and overall safety with actual dirt bike riders and law enforcement officials. The riders we work with are passionate about teaching kids to literally pick up a dirt bike as a means of staying away from the street life. We also help by instilling the safety aspects of the sport by ensuring students ride in designated areas, and not on the street, which was a concern of officers and some residents.

We too often hear negativity regarding growing up in the city. We need to expand on how things we naturally love and are a part of Baltimore can create success for all of us. B-360 addresses the challenge of “solving” the dirt bike issue by building on existing passion and utilizing community knowledge and know-how. The beauty of such community-based solutions is how far they go in dispelling myths of what it means to be Black in this city. We are capable of achieving greatness, we have plenty of ingenuity, and we have voices that need to be heard and included in solutions for us. I always tell people that if I can do it, you can too. I’m no different from anyone else from this city, and that’s the magic we all need to understand.

To learn more about B-360, visit their Facebook page or website.

Brittany Young

Brittany Young is a chemical engineer and the founder of B-360. She is a Baltimore Corps Elevation Awardee. The first round of Elevation Awards called for West Baltimore solutions from West Baltimore people, premised on the idea that people living in the community are best suited to identify challenges and create solutions.
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